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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sex and Death

People claim that there are a lot of reasons for turning away from the church as a liberal. But I don't buy most of the excuses. I don't buy the irreconciliable philosophical problems, the "I read Dostoevsky" and then God was impossible, the "I learned about the crusades" and then joining a church was impossible. Modern thinking Christians read Nietzche and Wittgenstein. They know about the crusades. They know that all organizations have problems, and all power corrupts. They also are over the 1960s critique of all organizations and all power. But this isn't about the church, this is about the people who bristle.

When I ask them why they bristle, there are two statements that come up again and again without sounding like they were ripped off of some high school teacher encouraging sixteen-year-olds to think for themselves for the first time.

One: I wanted to have sex before marriage, and the priest told me it was wrong. Variations include: abstinence campaigns not working in the face of AIDS, etc., do Christians want people who behave slightly differently but still with love to suffer and die?

Two: I found damnation hard to handle. Resurrection? Afterlife? Does God really want you to burn amidst devils for all of eternity for that one traffic violation? a) it is absurd, how very like a cartoon. b) this is blatant manipulation of dumb people to make them Christians. c) this is mean! (see below for brief commentary on death, esp Abby's comments to my post)

So you see, Sex and Death are a great problem for the Church, liberal or conservative, if it's going to convince thinking, compassionate people that Christianity has anything to offer.

Let me go way out on a limb and say that some part of these issues is weird. I don't care what my friends believe about sex and death. I have reasonably moral friends who care deeply about each other, and the views of the Christians aren't necessarily much different from those of the non-Christians. There are the fundamentalists way back home who express a strangely punitive attitude (God damns x group, let the brown people multiply and get sick) which I find totally unreconciliable with Christ's teaching. Because of my religion and upbringing, I have a different view of sex and death, and I've never found them in conflict with Jesus's two commandments to love God and serve your neighbor. I believe that loving sexual relationships outside of marriage -can- be the expression of a love that promotes an attitude humility and kindness in the world, and I believe in Eternal Life as a profound metaphor for the state of the soul when it's with God (see below).

But forget me. There are theological arguments for and against premarital sex. I'm not a theologian, and I'm not holding myself as a model Christian, statements that seem to be repeated about every three blog entries here.

Fortunately for everyone else, there's Anonymous Preaching Stud , a friend of mine on the web, who's a little better than I am at explaining a bit about why modern views on sex and death are condoned, practiced, and even embraced by a lot of modern Christians. Check it out. Anonymous Preaching Stud is just getting started, but he has a lot to say. There's been a lot of theology about what sex means to the Christian, there's been a lot of learning from gay people who have thought about open, loving relationships more carefully than straight people ever have; Anonymous Preaching Stud knows his stuff. The point isn't, or shouldn't be, that the church damns secular sex and death, but that it has a good way of thinking through them.

Which is a lot about what my blog is about. I don't see Jesus keeping us away from the world, Jesus who kissed lepers and hung out with prostitutes. I see Christ calling us to change our attitude towards the world and towards what we're supposed to do in it.

About my own experience and what this has done for me. I was dating a really sweet photographer who freaked out right before I came home from New Haven and broke up with me. I wanted to blog about it because I was trying to clear up in my head all the lessons of Lent about how loneliness is a human condition, how a Christian isn't necessarily less lonely but copes with loneliness by talking to God and expressing love whenever possible. I wanted to blog because I was figuring out how Christianity was actually relevant to my modern love-life: it told me, among other things, to handle the end of relationships by continuing to express gratitude and love, what it means to be single and Christian: I think it means being grateful for others' company. I think it means acknowledging their freedom to find their calling wherever. I think it means leaving open the possibility of God acting between two people to make a promise and act to make great plans to serve the world together. But in reverence to the importance of that relationship, it's just as important to love and let go.

The fruit of acting with responsibility and love is pretty serious. The photographer and I are pretty good friends still, and you can find heartfelt posts below about how deeply grateful I am still for his presence in my life, and how much I want him to thrive. I'm over it, and I give thanks to that seasons of meditation for allowing me the most graceful breakup I've ever had. I guess I’ve always had a history of falling with determination and taking rejection pretty hard, and it’s made me pretty crabby in a state of rejection in the past. I wanted to get past handling rejection with bitterness.

Preachers and historians and the media think the church is being ignored by educated people for various reasons: the success of Enlightenment, total irrelevance of mystery to modern life, "removing the mystery" from the universe by answering too many questions with God, not being able to deal with evil and war. Personally I've found the church to in fact reconcile all of these problems: reason with tradition, individual interactions with the community, evil with good. I'll go further than that. I think the church doesn't have more or fewer answers to the major questions of existence than psychology, astrophysics, and philosophy put together. The church has interesting way so fhandling peculiar problems like how to express gratitude and love, problems which aren't handled so well by the others.

Just as the Enlightenment separated the State from the Church, it also effectively made the Church think through separation of church and state as well. We no longer believe that theologians should be the sole authorities on geology and astrophysics. We acknowledge those as separate kinds of expertise that don't challenge the Church's authority to speak to the soul. But there are domains where expertise is shared: both political science and the Church have a lot to say about how communities act and what's desirable. Both the Church and Psychology have a lot to say about what the human soul needs. Since at least 1750 people inside the Church have been thinking about how best Christians can think about how to incorporate both theology and other kinds of secular knowledge in their lives. Since at least 1850 Christians have been thinking about how to incorporate modern understandings of women's freedom, the body, sexuality, and culturally diverse families, with their views of responsibility and love as received from Christ.

But we've been embarrassed to talk about it: embarrassed because the 1960s revolutions in sexuality and gender were so drastic that many moderates felt left behind, wanted a pure Christianity that simply kept the old patterns of demographics.

In 2005 we've all seen enough statistics to know that teaching abstinence doesn't work; we've read enough Freud to acknowledge sex as something human and beautiful that creates deep rifts for the soul if blocked off and crushed. Now it's time we did some talking about how a Christian who cares about the spiritual and emotional health of herself and her partner should deal with sex. Go, Anonymous Preaching Stud , go!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sex and Death" shows what I love and what I dislike about Christianity.

If Christianity taught you to handle the end of a relationship by "continuing to express gratitude and love," then I honor both you and Christianity. Yes, to express gratitude and love in the face of a rejection, is indeed the essence of what the reign of God is all about. It is the message of Jesus' life and teaching. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors no matter what they may do to us. Jesus lived and died this luminous, transformative message.

Then you speak of the "excuses" people use for turning away from the church. "Excuses" has a pejorative connotation to me. It sounds as if you are implying people should be part of the church, and they are making excuses if they are not.

Such an attitude turns me away from Christianity. Unfortunately, such an attitude goes back to the Gospels themselves, actually mostly the Gospel of John. Jesus is purported to have said, "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). Even worse, Jesus allegedly said, "I told you that you would die in your sins: if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." (John 8:24). These words sound intolerent to me. Look around at world spirituality, there are many ways to the Father.

Peace,
Joe P.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

Joe P.

I think the main point that Jo was trying to make was that organized religion, that is Christianity as it is expressed in community, has value and meaning because life in community can teach us things about love and gratitude.

You don't get that if you just stay home and read on your own or commune with nature.

And the Church, at its best, is saying that this is a superior way to live. This is better than a dog-eat dog world where we just feel alienated from eachother.

11:35 AM  

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